Rechargeable Li/S batteries have attracted significant attention lately due to their high specific energy and low cost. They are promising candidates for applications, including portable electronics, electric vehicles and grid-level energy storage. However, poor cycle life and low power capability are major technical obstacles. Various nanostructured sulfur cathodes have been developed to address these issues, as they provide greater resistance to pulverization, faster reaction kinetics and better trapping of soluble polysulfides. In this review, recent developments on nanostructured sulfur cathodes and mechanisms behind their operation are presented and discussed. Moreover, progress on novel characterization of sulfur cathodes is also summarized, as it has deepened the understanding of sulfur cathodes and will guide further rational design of sulfur electrodes. © 2013 The Royal Society of Chemistry.